MacBackpackers Review: Tours of Scotland

MacBackpackers offer fun group tours in Scotland. This award-winning company are ideal for solos and I share why in my Macbackpackers review

If you’ve ever wanted to explore the history and culture of Scotland, MacBackpackers have been offering Scottish adventures for the last 20 years. Designed for 18 to 40 year olds, this award-winning company are ideal for solo travellers wanting to meet like-minded others and have fun on their trip (and they’re 100% Scottish).

Wanting to experience Scotland for myself, I joined their 5-Day Scottish Highlands tour  to discover more of this bonnie country for myself.

Tip – If you don't have time to read the whole article, I recommend this 5 Day Skye and Highland Fling tour. The tour was amazing and you get to see the highlights of Scotland in 5 days! Or if you only have 3 days you can see the Isle of Skye & Loch Ness!
MacBackpackers: Tours of Scotland

Edinburgh Castle, near the starting point for the tours.

How Did You Discover MacBackpackers Tours of Scotland?

Types of Girl about the Globe (GatG) – Adventure, Budget, Under 40 GatG

I heard about MacBackpackers tours at an 18 to 30 travel event I attended in London. The company offers Highland tours from Edinburgh, and their adventures in Scotland sounded fun.

I especially liked the fact that they start and finish in Edinburgh. I loved the name and the concept of travelling around Scotland with a group of like-minded others and one guide with you all the way.

MacBackpackers: Tours of Scotland

Inverness, one of the overnight stops on the 5 day tour.

What interested you in their Scotland Tours?

I researched their trips and their promise won me over: “Your adventure, should you choose to accept, is five days of castle-storming, whisky-drinking, ceilidh-dancing and monster-hunting. Rambling across the Highlands our guides will take you through the very best of what Scotland has to offer, ensuring an unforgettable experience.”

That and the fact that MacBackpackers Tours of Scotland have been voted “Best Cultural Tour in the World 2016” by TourRadar Tour of the Year Awards, and “Quick Getaway Tour of the Year in 2018,” made me certain that these were the perfect company to travel to Scotland with.

MacBackpackers: Tours of Scotland

The Kelpies, mythological creatures of Scotland.

Are their Tours of Scotland good value?

The prices start from a crazy budget price of £219 for the 3 day Isle of Skye tour. Even if you are a frugal backpacker, this price is so affordable, and it makes seeing the country so much easier than travelling there independently.

Taking a tour is a good way to see the majority of the sights in the country without having to hire a car.

Even though Scotland has a good bus system, these adventures take you the scenic route and everything is handled for you, including the pre-booking of your accommodation (which is additional). You just ask for them to pre-book it at the time of booking.

The price is so cheap for the value that you get. I took the 5 Day Skye and Highland Fling tour which costs £335 and is five days of castle-storming, whisky-drinking, ceilidh-dancing and monster-hunting.

Overnight stops include Inverness, the Isle of Skye for two nights and Oban (April – October) or Fort William (November – March).

Branka the tour guide was really knowledgeable and her passion for folklore and old Scottish stories shone through.* Check rates and availability for MacBackpackers tours

MacBackpackers: Tours of Scotland

Searching for the Loch Ness monster at one of Scotland's most famous spots.

MacBackpackers: Tours of Scotland

Meeting Steve, the Nessie Hunter at Loch Ness

Why Take a Tour?

If you’re planning on staying longer in Scotland then it’s a great introduction to the country and you can decide which destinations you want to come back and spend longer at. I had the chance to see some amazing landscapes. Having a tour guide makes it easier for you to see as much as you can.

Although I have travelled extensively, I had the chance to experience lots of things for the first time on this trip! I got to meet Steve, the famous Loch Ness Hunter who has been there on the hunt for Nessie for 17 years!

I visited a battlefield for the first time; Culloden Battlefield, an important part of British history, saw my first Loch (which is Scottish for lake), saw trees adorned with coins, and learnt that sheep are kept in a sheep fank (which I found hilarious for some reason and had to have my picture taken with one!)

I also experienced my first Scottish whisky distillery, tried Iron Bru cheesecake and Scottish dancing for the first time, and saw the famous Ben Nevis.

Not to mention: seeing a giant red deer in the wild, spotting the ‘hairy coos’ (the Scottish name for Highland cattle), and seeing castles and landscapes that had inspired the film sets of Highlander and Monty Python. Even on our last day heading back to Edinburgh, we saw so many sites. Not bad for a 5 day trip!

I extended my time in Scotland and spent the first few days before the tour solo, experiencing Edinburgh’s nightlife and watching comedy, dance and magic shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. There truly is so much to see and learn about in Scotland. Below, I share the details of each day of my trip to inspire you to join too! * Check rates and availability for MacBackpackers tours

MacBackpackers: Tours of Scotland

Scotland has amazing scenery

MacBackpackers: Tours of Scotland

MacBackpackers: Tours of Scotland

My MacBackpackers Review of the 5 Day Tour

Day One

On day one, I made my way to the Castle Rock Hostel – aptly named due to its close proximity of Edinburgh Castle – for my pick up of 9:00am. Once all aboard we began our 5 day journey leaving the city of Edinburgh behind before venturing into the Scottish Highlands, stopping at The Hermitage, my first National Trust site in Scotland.

Located on the River Braan we had the chance for a short hike to see the Black Linn Falls before seeing a wishing tree, a log embedded with coins that can be found in the Highlands.

Stopping briefly in Pittochry, we went onto the Highland Folk Museum where I saw my first sheep fank and had a spelling lesson in an old school classroom. The Culloden Battlefield was the site of the last battle of the Jacobite Rising that took place in 1745. The museum shows a reconstruction of how the battle took place, the last battle to be fought on British soil.

Next stop was Clava Cairns, one of the country's prehistoric sites with burial cairns dating back 4000 years. Loch Ness was definitely my favourite place on our first day. Having grown up with stories of the Loch Ness monster I couldn't believe that I was finally here; standing at the exact lake where the monster had been spotted. It was a pinch moment for sure! We spent the evening in Inverness.

MacBackpackers: Tours of Scotland

The Fairy Pools

MacBackpackers: Tours of Scotland

Colourful houses line the Isle of Skye.

Day Two

Day two began with a lovely hike at Corrieshalloch gorge across a wobbly suspension bridge that only holds six people, before driving to the picturesque Loch Maree viewpoint. In the afternoon we hiked Britain's first National Nature Reserve called Beinn Eight Nature Reserve (which is stunning). This was what I had imagined the Scottish Highlands to look like, with mountain peaks and hills.

After a short stop at the Torridon viewpoint we then spotted a deer at Achnasheen before heading to Loch Carron viewpoint then Eilean Donan Castle, a 13th Century castle which has starred in Highlander and the James Bond film, The World is Not Enough.

We entered the Isle of Skye via the bridge and after an Irn Bru cheesecake at Saucy Mary's in Kyleakin settled into our hostel for the night. * Check rates and availability for MacBackpackers tours

MacBackpackers: Tours of Scotland

Stunning Glenfinnan

Day Three

Day three was spent on the Isle of Skype and was the main hiking day. First stop Glen Brittle to see the famous Fairy Pools. This is where the midges were out in force but we made it across the stream despite the rain to see these small crystal clear pools at the foot of the Cuillin Mountains.

Lunch was a quick stop at Portree, the capital and largest town with colourful houses lined along the harbour. Then to Duntulm Castle, a ruined castle perched high on a cliffside. 

Hiking at Quiraing was where the group bonded. Formed by a landslip that has created cliffs and plateaus, this landscape apparently was once used by the islanders to hide their cattle from Viking raiders.

After the hike we ventured to Sligachan, a great viewpoint for the Black Cuillin mountains. We returned back to our hostel in Kyleakin for our second night there. 

MacBackpackers: Tours of Scotland

The beautiful Glencoe

Day Four 

On day four we left the Isle of Skye. This time instead of driving over the bridge we took the ferry from Armadale to Mallaig to some of the most breathtaking scenery I had seen so far.

Seeing the Harry Potter steam train (apparently known as the Hogwarts Express) despite the fact that I am not a Harry Potter fan was such a highlight! Especially from our fantastic vantage point where we later took a group photo. To continue the Harry Potter theme, we then saw the Harry Potter bridge in Glenfinnan. The scenery here was mind-blowing. 

At the foot of Ben Nevis, we had a tour of my first ever Scottish whisky distillery. Using the source of the highest mountain in Britain to create its whisky, we were guided around the Ben Nevis Distillery to understand more about the whisky process and to sample a taste at the end.

Our hiking stop for the day was Glen Coe, a deep valley carved out by volcanic explosions and glaciers. Overnight was spent at Oban where I ate some of Scotland’s best seafood, tried Ceilidh dancing (which was so much fun) and danced my socks off until the wee hours. * Check rates and availability for MacBackpackers tours

MacBackpackers: Tours of Scotland

A hairy cooo!

MacBackpackers: Tours of Scotland

Doune Castle, featured in Highlander, and Monty Python

Day Five

On our last day in the Highlands we were treated with a surprise visit to St. Conan's Kirk, a 20th Century church with many different styles and very unique architecture.

I've definitely not seen another church like it in all my travels. Then it was to Kilchurn Castle, a ruined castle on a rocky peninsula before a stop in the small village of Tyndrum.

Then another chance to see hairy cooos! (Highland cattle is their technical term) at Kilmahog before the famous Doune Castle that has starred in Highlander and Monty Python.

Our final stop as a group was the Kelpies, giant statues of mythological creatures that shape-shift into horses. These 31 metre high horse heads are said to be even more impressive at night.

Then at 6pm we were back in the city Edinburgh where our tour began five days earlier, more knowledgable and more experienced in Scotland than when I first arrived.

MacBackpackers: Tours of Scotland

Seeing the Harry Potter train thanks to our guide!

Positives of Taking a Tour with MacBackpackers

I also love the fact that you’re not sitting on a bus all day, and you get to experience the nature that Scotland has to offer.

To maximise time during the day we ate on the go, stopping to purchase our lunch from a Co-op or a shop that we could find. The evenings were ours and we had the chance to dine with people from the group of which I made two good friends.

They are eco-friendly and recycle, and the hostels we stayed in were really good value, especially for the month of August. You can stay in their recommended hostel the evening before the tour and just get picked up outside.* Check rates and availability for MacBackpackers tours

MacBackpackers: Tours of Scotland

At Ben Nevis Whisky Distillery on our whisky tour.

Negatives of Taking a Tour with MacBackpackers

The only negatives were that it rained a lot (but it is Scotland and I was prepared with a rain jacket). Due to travelling during the peak season, the midges were out in force. Jasmiina had warned me of these at the time of booking and advised me to buy midge spray (which I definitely recommend!)

Because I’m really friendly it would have been great to have got to know everyone properly on the tour. A group bonding session at the beginning would have been good, but it’s difficult to do on the bus.

On a plus side, the hiking gave us a chance to walk alongside others who we hadn’t previously interacted with and get to know them better. We definitely all knew each other by the end of the Scottish dancing night!

MacBackpackers: Tours of Scotland

Our 5 day group!

Why MacBackpackers?

What I love about MacBackpackers is the passion of the company, from the booking stages to the tour. It’s a small company, but everyone seems to love working there, which is always a good sign of a good company.

Their trips to Scotland take you to secret places that aren’t on the itinerary. Branka, our tour guide, knew exactly what time the steam train went across the bridge so we could climb up a hill to watch it. That isn’t something that you can know or do on your own.

Branka’s playlist of Scottish music or artists related to Scotland widened my musical taste. I now appreciate Scottish pipe music (listen to the Red Hot Chilli Pipers if you get a chance!)

Our group size was 22, and we were from the UK, USA, Brazil, Germany, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Australia, China and Portugal, so we had a varied mix of people and plenty of people to talk to. At the beginning of the trip, we were all given wristbands that gave us discounts for various places in Edinburgh and Scotland. 

MacBackpackers offer Scotland tours for the adventurous, historical, and nature solo from 3 days to a week long. Choose from a 3 day trip to the Isle of Skye: a 5 day Skye and Highland Fling, or a week-long Best of the West exploring beaches, castles, and islands. If you want to experience Hogmanay, Scotland’s famous New Year celebrations, they do this too!

Accommodation is staying in hostels. Accommodation isn’t included in the price but it is guaranteed for you whilst on tour. You’ll be sharing dorm rooms with other members of the group which helps you to bond. You get one guide and one group all the way too. It’s the best way to get an ultimate Scottish adventure! Check rates and availability for MacBackpackers tours

MacBackpackers: Tours of Scotland

My partner in crime for the whole tour!

Who Are These Tours For?

These tours are for the Girl about the Globe who wants to see the best of Scotland in a limited amount of time (5 day Skye and Highland Fling). The 7 day tour probably has more rest time, but the 5 day and 3 day tour are jam-packed with all the sights (which is great).

They are for under 40 years old. Due to the age restrictions on the tour (although I was 3 years older, but don’t tell anyone), MacBackpackers are able to incorporate a lot of hiking into their tours.

On one of the days we completed two gorgeous hikes, one to the Fairy Pools where we managed to fight off the midges, followed by a hike at Quiraing, which turned into more of a team building exercise when the fog set in and we took a wrong turn.

The 6 night Hogmanay Hootenanny tour is perfect for the Girl about the Globe looking to experience the world famous Hogmanay Street Party and welcome in the New Year in Edinburgh with live music and fireworks. And you get the award-winning 3 Day Isle of Skye tour thrown in too! Or visit over Christmas for the 5 day Christmas Caper. 

My tip – I recommend this 5 day Skye and Highland Fling tour due to the amount of sights that you get to see. There is a three day tour but you may find yourself on the bus more due to the distance from Edinburgh to the Isle of Skye. If you have less time you can opt for the 3 Day Isle of Skye tour or book the 7 day Best of the West if you have longer.

MacBackpackers: Tours of Scotland

Meeting great people

Other MacBackpackers Reviews

“The 3 day Loch Ness and Isle of Skye tour was a fun, scenic and easy way to get a taste of Skye and the highlands. Our guides, Richard and Stuart, were informative and hilarious and really made the trip enjoyable (thanks again guys!).

We considered driving ourselves but are so glad we chose the tour as we learnt so much more from the guides about Scotland and Skye, covered more distance and had plenty of laughs with the rest of the group. The Loch Ness hostel and Skye house were comfortable, warm, clean and had AMAZING waterside views and the bus had good speakers, big windows for photos and air con (required in the rare 27 degrees!).

No complaints at all, would highly recommend!!! Bring good walking shoes, all weather clothes and your sense of humour and you’ll have an unforgettable time in beautiful Scotland!!” – Rebecca Thompson

* N.b. My MacBackpackers tour was complimentary but as always I wouldn’t recommend any company on this site that I didn’t believe was solo female-friendly.

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